About 5’3” in her flip-flops and with a voice that sounds like coconuts falling on sand, Monica and another bottle of red come into view just seconds after I say her name, completing that magical triptych of wine, sunshine and utter lack of responsibility also known as holiday euphoria.
It’s around half past it-doesn’t-really-matter, and Monica is ours for the duration of our stay. A 24/7 butler in a country that already does superlative service charmingly well, she’s so kind I could cry. Or maybe that’s the merlot. I ask if she ever sleeps, and she smiles as if to say, ‘Oh, that never crossed my mind.’
We’re at Secret Chapters at The Library resort in Koh Samui and it is extraordinary. Literally, because there’s nowhere else quite like it on the island. Resembling a slice of Richard Meier in a sea of off-the-peg barefoot luxury resorts, The Library is white-on-crisper-white modernism. It’s a design-led hotel with a fashion-forward twinkle in its eye, popular with Instagram acolytes. You’ll hear, ‘Oh, the one with the red pool!’ a lot. And it’s plonked right on the island’s most famous and popular beach, Chaweng, with its (in)famous entertainment strip flickering behind it.
The Library resort has been around for years, but Secret Chapters — a compound on the grounds housing an otherworldly collection of villas — is a new, more discreet addition to the inventory. When we arrived, Monica had appeared with a comedy-sized key and led us to a hidden door where a flotilla of mosquitos – very common on the island — were having a nosy. So far, so Lewis Carroll.
A wink and a heave-ho later, and we’d entered Secret Chapters – a new world of hospitality that puts the divide firmly between us and them. Them being guests of the original resort, left behind as the hidden door closes, us the residents of the latest ‘story’ (their literary motif, not ours) in The Library’s career – 20 of Koh Samui’s most exceptional private villas.
As residents, we’re privy to the vision of The Library’s dapper owner – Koh Samui native and man-about-island Kasemtham Sornsong – and designer Tirawan Songsawat, whom he met at Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market. We catch fleeting cameos of Tirawan in head-to-toe black throughout our stay, no doubt putting finishing touches to The Writer, the most impressive of Chapters’ residences.
Coming in at 359sq metres, it features a private outdoor cinema, library, dedicated living and dining spaces plus a saltwater pool. Of the remaining villas, The Editor is the other signature offering — it features a study area and pantry and sees ‘working creatives’ as its demographic. The 18 one- and two-bedroomed Secret Pool Villas come in at 220sq metres, each featuring a saltwater pool and 11ft-wide bed.
Each villa’s door is a rotating slab that bisects a slate wall, calling for a ‘Ta-Da” each time you open it. We’re staying in a one-bedroom Secret Villa, which on arrival takes a good 10 minutes to circumnavigate – due to us taking in the tandem rain shower and matching walk-in closets at a reverential pace — and it takes an age to fill the huge outdoor Jacuzzi bathtub, but Monica’s already on it. And, in the middle of it all, is a saltwater pool where, in the corner, a life-sized porcelain sculpture sits reading a book, toes nonchalantly dipped in, like something Keith Haring and Antony Gormley might have cooked up together.
These are beautiful spaces but the clincher is found outside of the villas. Accessible only to its guests, a beachside enclave, peering over Chaweng’s sand yet discreetly off-piste, comes with its very own ruby-red pool and matching loungers.
Lest you think this is all a little too divisive, the original carnation of The Library is still a hub for all residents. It’s where much of the hotel’s buzz is found, whether that’s through guests bobbing in the original red pool or dining on Thai fusion at The Page restaurant, which remains a must-try round these parts and serves a curated selection of ‘lost’ regional cuisine. (Though you might prefer the ‘Samrab Thai’, a sharing dinner made up of the eight distinctive flavours and texture profiles of traditional Thai cooking.)
This is also where breakfast – the freshest of fruit, yoghurts with omegas piled high, the longest of cocktails (why not!) — is served, unless you’d prefer to take it in your villa. Oh, and in case you were wondering, there is a big communal library – Starck-esque, not stuffy — stacked with 1,400 titles.
And outside, Koh Samui is fit-to-bursting with all the clichés you could wish for: piles of coconuts peppered about like tropical knolls; splayed dogs, fatigued by the sun; men hauling around lizards for photo-ops. There’s talk that Koh Samui has lost some of its charm through sheer popularity and rambunctious Chaweng does divide opinion in the manner of a popular yeast-based snack. The beach is a stretch of stupendous beauty abridged by a boisterous parade of all-night bars, shops selling all the tat money can buy, and billboards exclaiming ‘authentic’ Thai boxing contests.
But then I like to be where it’s at, and The Library — unquestionably the stylish zenith of that action – is sandwiched between beach and bustle. It’s a juxtaposition that is intentional – both in-the-thick-of-it and a glorious retreat. Some people call it the best of both worlds, as do I.
For a better bet on chic nightlife, though, take the 10-minute drive to Fisherman’s Village, straddling Bhoput beach. Starfish + Coffee (Bh Phut Road) is an institution for good reason, Coco Tam’s will go down well if you’re not planning on getting up early, and Bangkok’s hip Casa Lapin café recently debuted Café De Pier — so that’s the best coffee on Koh Samui sorted. And most will attest that nearby Dining on the Rocks at the Six Senses resort remains the finest gastronomic experience on an island that rarely does food badly.
Or get Monica or her peers to sort out a shiny catamaran that will pick you up on The Library’s shore for a sunset whistle-stop tour of the island, breaking for paddle boarding or snorkelling or whatever-you-fancy.
On our voyage, ship’s captain Angelina tells us “Koh Samui’s weather is like a woman’s temper” in between refilling coupes, which all seems a bit Seventies sitcom. The water, still as can be and coming in a pigment Pantone has yet to recognise, suggests Koh Samui is in one of her better moods.
Conditions are equally calm the next morning, when we avail of the so-called Breakfast Culture, one of The Library’s signature dining experiences. That means a sunrise breakfast in bed, on a mattress placed directly on the beach. It’s just after 7am and we’re just about to get started on a plate of pastries when with a squint I notice the first strong rays of light breaking through the clouds. Making my way here earlier I’d forgotten my sunglasses, but here comes Monica…
Secret Chapters’ one-bedroom pool villas start from £656 per night; rooms at The Library start from £249 per night.